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“That’s What Friends are For”, also known as “The Vulture Song” is another funny Disney song, and a great addition to The Jungle Book film, not just because of the music, but also because of the story behind what ALMOST happened with it.
Allow me to explain. As you hear the song in the film, it is presented in the style of a barbershop quartet (four-part harmony, traditionally performed with male voices). But it wasn’t always going to be that way. The original plan was for the song to be a rock ‘n roll style featuring…*drumroll please*…..the BEATLES!!
Yes, THOSE Beatles: Paul, John, Ringo and George, aka one of the most popular bands to ever exist. The plan was for each vulture to be modeled after a member of the band, and they would perform this rock number for Mowgli. How cool would that have been? Unfortunately for all of us, as often happens in life, negotiations between Disney and the band ultimately fell through. When told the band couldn’t do it, the writers changed the song from a rock piece to a simple song in four-part harmony, resulting in the song we hear today. But according to a story I heard in the “Making Of” featurette on my DVD copy of the film, one or two of the vultures are still modeled after the Beatles (I could be wrong though).
“The Vulture Song” is really the last major song of the film (there is “My Own Home” still to come but that’s much simpler than this). By this point, Mowgli feels abandoned by everyone he’s ever cared about (Baloo let it slip that he wants Mowgli to go to the Man Village too) and has run away to a desolate area that’s apparently outside the jungle altogether. Here, a depressed Mowgli comes to the attention of four bored-out-of-their-minds vultures, who continually ask each other “So what we gonna do?” Since most people/things that come their way are um…well, dead, they’re surprised to see someone still alive so they go over to talk. Poor Mowgli doesn’t want to talk though, and the vultures quickly see he needs cheering up, so the vultures decide to be his new friends.
As they sing and dance with Mowgli however…Shere Khan comes waltzing into the picture. No one sees the tiger, but he certainly sees THEM. Shere Khan’s addition to the song is one of my favorites ever (the part where he breaks in with “That’s what friends…are FOR!”) This is the one moment of the film where George Sanders (voicing Shere Khan) doesn’t perform the voice. Instead, this one moment is done by legendary voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft (the ORIGINAL voice of Tony the Tiger and the voice behind “You’re a Mean one, Mr. Grinch”). The moment at the end where his voice drops incredibly low always fascinated me as a kid, and laugh if you like, but I used to try and follow along, even though I knew my voice couldn’t go anywhere near that low.
At any rate, please enjoy listening to “The Vulture Song” and stay tuned for more Jungle Book songs to come!
*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios
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